This remote park in southeast Washington may not qualify for any superlatives—it’s not the largest state park in Washington, nor does it offer the most recreation activities or draw the most annual visitors—but Palouse Falls State Park boasts a unique charm worth venturing off the beaten path to experience.
Located in the town of LaCrosse, roughly midway between Spokane and Kennewick, Palouse Falls State Park is essentially in the middle of nowhere. It’s not convenient to major highways, park facilities are minimal and cell service is virtually nonexistent, but if you’re looking for a quiet spot to appreciate nature’s beauty and get away from the daily grind, the park and its eponymous waterfall definitely fit the bill.
Palouse Falls State Park History
The foundations for Palouse Falls State Park were laid millions of years ago, when massive volcanic flows created the basalt columns and variegated rock layers that form the walls of Palouse Canyon. At the end of the Ice Age about 16,000 years ago, glacial flooding from Lake Missoula poured through the canyon with a force 10 times more powerful than the average river.
The Missoula floods cut through the volcanic rock laid down millions of years prior, establishing wide coulees through the basalt, one of which was Palouse Canyon. The 200-foot waterfall of the same name was another remnant of the floods, and it now has the distinction of being one of a very few remaining active waterfalls formed by this vast glacial flood path.
Over the centuries, Palouse Falls became a cherished location for Native American tribes, including the Palouse Tribe, which named the falls “Aputapat,” which translates to “falling water.” When the falls were discovered by the expedition led by Captain Charles Wilkes in 1841, the falls were subsequently named for the Palouse people.
The existing 105-acre state park was established on June 3, 1951, with land for the park being donated by several philanthropists in the state, including Baker-Boyer National Bank of Walla Walla, which provided 73 acres, J.M. McGregor of the McGregor Land and Livestock Company, who gave 22 acres and Agnes Sells of the nearby town of Washtucna, who donated nine acres.
Though the modestly-sized park remained something of a hidden gem for decades, it drew statewide attention in 2013, when a group of grade-school children in Washtucna launched a campaign to designate Palouse Falls as the official state waterfall of Washington. The students worked with their teachers and state legislators to draft a bill doing just that, and it was signed into law by Governor Jay Inslee in March 2014.
Getting to Palouse Falls State Park
Tucked away in the southeast corner of the state within the boundaries of the town of LaCrosse, Palouse Falls State Park requires substantial travel time from larger cities in the region. Be sure to download your route or have a physical map handy, since cell service in the region can be spotty and disappears completely on park property.
You should also manage your fuel levels carefully since the closest gas station is located in Starbuck, more than 15 miles from the park.
- From Spokane: Expect a roughly two-hour drive from Spokane, traveling on I-90 west to WA-261, which leads to Palouse Falls Road. Stay on the road until you reach the main parking lot.
- From Seattle: It’s a four-hour drive from Seattle to Palouse Falls State Park, but it’s an uncomplicated route. Take I-90 east to WA-261 until you reach Palouse Falls Road and ultimately, the parking lot.
- From Pullman: The trip to the park is about 90 minutes from Pullman, taking U.S. 195 north to WA-26 west to WA-261 south and then continuing on Palouse Falls Road.
- From Kennewick: The drive from Kennewick is less than 90 minutes and takes you along U.S. 395 north to WA-260 east, where you’ll join WA-261 south to reach Palouse Falls Road and the park.
Palouse Falls State Park Hours, Facilities and Fees
Entry to Palouse Falls State Park requires a Discover Pass, which can be obtained as a day pass for $10 or in an annual version for $30. Discover Passes are available online as well as at a kiosk inside the park. Failure to display the pass on your car windshield could result in a $99 fine, so don’t skip this step.
The park hours are open daily from 6:30 a.m. to dusk year-round and offers the following amenities:
- 11 primitive tent-only campsites and one campsite accessible to people with disabilities
- Maximum vehicle parking length, 20 feet
- One sheltered picnic table with two braziers
- Seven unsheltered picnic tables
- Restrooms near the picnic and camping areas
What to Bring to Palouse Falls State Park
When planning your trip to Palouse Falls State Park, be sure to pack (or wear) the following essential items:
- Sturdy shoes with good traction for walking and hiking the rugged trails
- Comfortable, seasonally-appropriate clothing
- Plenty of drinking water for each person in your party
- Sunscreen to protect your skin from the unrelenting direct sunlight in most areas of the park
- Camera or smartphone to capture the park’s stunning scenery
- Insect repellent
- Snacks or a picnic lunch to enjoy at the tables in the park
- Credit/debit card or cash, if you’ll be purchasing your Discover Pass inside the park
Things to Do at Palouse Falls State Park
Palouse Falls doesn’t have the wealth of recreational opportunities that some of its larger counterparts do, but it does offer a handful of activities that make it worth adding to your calendar.
Viewing the Falls
Most park visitors come primarily to see Palouse Falls, a rush of churning water that plummets more than 200 feet into a swirling pool before it heads off in search of the Snake River. There are several options for viewing the falls within the park, including the lower viewpoint, which can be reached by taking the stairs just off the main parking lot.
The one-mile interpretive path leads visitors to another viewing area, while the Fryxell Overlook just beyond the secondary gravel parking lot provides the highest vantage point, with panoramic views of Palouse River Canyon in addition to the waterfall.
With just a few brief trails, Palouse Falls State Park isn’t a major destination for serious hikers, but they’re worth exploring during your visit.
- Palouse Falls Trail: This trail follows the rugged cliffs that line the Palouse River Canyon and is recommended for experienced hikers, who may encounter drop-offs and steep talus slopes as well as rattlesnakes and poison oak. However, it also offers excellent views of the main attraction—the 200-foot waterfall. The trailhead is located just off the main parking lot, and the route is 1.4 miles round trip.
- North Rim Trail: This challenging trail heads north from the main Palouse Falls Trail, hugging the canyon’s rim for just under half a mile before descending to the railroad tracks and across a talus slope before reaching the river. The trail turns south at the river and winds along the canyon’s west side for another quarter-mile before reaching its terminus at the basalt columns near the top of the waterfall. At this point, hikers will be treated to a breathtaking vista that includes the canyon as well as the falls.
- South Rim Trail: From the main parking lot, the South Rim Trail heads south for one-tenth of a mile before reaching the Fryxell Overlook, where trekkers will want to stop to admire the falls. The trail follows the rim briefly before meeting the railroad tracks, immediately followed by the sharp and somewhat unstable descent to the bottom of the canyon. The marked trail ends at the river, but adventurous hikers can continue in either direction along the river, though the terrain becomes significantly more difficult to navigate.
Though not known for its fishing scene, anglers can manage respectable hauls at Palouse Falls State Park, both in the Palouse River as well as in the pool at the base of the falls. Potential catches include walleye, bass, perch and catfish. Anyone over the age of 15 will need a current Washington state fishing license to cast a reel at the park; licenses may be obtained online or at hundreds of license dealers throughout the state.
Palouse Falls State Park offers 11 primitive, tent-only campsites and one ADA-accessible campsite, with each space large enough to accommodate two tents and four people. Each site includes a picnic table and fire pit, and the sites share a community pit toilet and braziers. Drinking water is only available from April through October, so be sure to bring an ample supply if you opt to camp during the off season.
Campsites are available for $12 per night on a first-come, first-served basis, payable by cash or check only at the park. The fee covers one vehicle, with additional vehicles incurring a charge of $10 each per night. Check-in time is 2:30 p.m., with check-out time at 1 p.m.
Amateur and professional photographers are drawn to Palouse Falls State Park for its vibrant scenery, which extends beyond the dramatic descent of the waterfall itself. From the intricate layers of the canyon’s rock walls to the varied plant and animal life thriving within the park, shutterbugs can find thousands of worthy subjects to capture with their cameras.
Of course, Palouse Falls is often the main attraction for photographers, who come to the park year-round to shoot the falls as their appearance changes with the seasons.
Serious photographers will want to bring both zoom and wide-angle lenses to the park; however, drones are prohibited in Washington’s state parks without a permit.
The park’s 105 acres of basalt canyon and shrub-steppe plateau provide a secure habitat for a variety of bird species, making it an excellent destination for avid ornithologists. Bring a good set of binoculars and you may spot peregrine and prairie falcons nesting in the park’s cliffs and orioles and yellow warblers in the cottonwood trees.
White-throated swifts, brewer’s blackbirds, ravens, and multiple species of swallows can be found throughout the park, while horned larks, western meadowlarks, and eastern kingbirds tend to frequent the sagebrush. If you’re lucky, you may see golden eagles and ferruginous hawks soaring and swooping over the yawning canyon.
In addition to the winged creatures that call Palouse Falls State Park home, at least a half-dozen species of four-legged wildlife can be found in the park. Visitors may catch a glimpse of badgers, bobcats, coyotes, deer, elk, yellow-bellied marmots, rabbits, raccoons, and squirrels as they traverse the trails. Rattlesnakes have also been spotted at the park, so watch your step.
Informational plaques are stationed throughout the park to educated visitors about the Ice Age floods and the formation of the region’s geology as well as park history and the Palouse tribe.
Attractions Near Palouse Falls State Park
As a relatively small park with few population centers nearby, you may wish to pair your visit to Palouse Falls with a stop at one of the other attractions in the reason. Good options within two hours of the park include:
- #thatNWbus: This graffiti-covered derelict school bus has become both a viral sensation and a work of art. The bus sits in a desolate field off Highway 260, roughly seven miles southwest of the town of Washtucna. You can board the bus and take photos from the driver’s seat and waving from the glassless windows or even pack a picnic to enjoy at this offbeat destination.
- Lyons Ferry State Park: If you’re looking for more recreation opportunities than Palouse Falls State Park offers, Lyons Ferry State Park is less than 20 minutes away. Located at the junction of the Palouse and Snake rivers near Washtucna, this day-use only park is a lovely place for boating, swimming, and fishing. It also features hiking trails, covered and uncovered picnic tables, and modern restroom facilities with hot showers.
- Walla Walla: This quaint town in Washington’s wine country is about an hour from Palouse Falls State Park. In addition to touring the wineries, visitors to Walla Walla can explore the impressive restaurant scene; check out one of the craft breweries, cideries, and distilleries; browse dozens of charming local shops; play a round of golf; or dive into the town’s cultural scene, which includes several theater companies as well as a handful of art galleries and museums.
- Spokane: Less than two hours from Palouse Falls State Park, Spokane is the closest large city and offers plenty for tourists to see and do. There are five casinos in or near the city, as well as more than a dozen city and regional parks, nine golf courses, hundreds of shops and restaurants, and a vibrant nightlife scene. Be sure to check the city’s calendar of seasonal events and festivals when planning your trip.
Weather Conditions at Palouse Falls State Park
Located in the desert region of southwest Washington, conditions at Palouse Falls State Park tend to be hot and dry during the spring and summer months, with average high temperatures around 90 degrees Fahrenheit in July and August. During the winter, temperatures hover just above freezing during the day and drop well below it at night.
Precipitation averages one to two inches per month most of the year, with occasional snow in the winter, while July, August, and September commonly see almost no rain. If you want to catch the falls at their peak flow, consider scheduling your visit in the late spring and early summer.
Palouse Falls State Park Fast Facts
- Location: Palouse Falls Road, LaCrosse, WA 99143, USA
- Hours of operation: 6:30 a.m. to dusk
- Fees: Daily ($10) or annual ($30) Discover Pass required to enter the park
- Camping: 11 primitive tent-only campsites and one ADA-accessible campsite
- Acreage: 105 acres
- Pet policy: Dogs are permitted in the park, but must remain leashed at all times.